Review: “Recreation”, by Mitch Epstein

In 2005, American photographer Mitch Epstein published a book of photographs of the American people, from New York to Los Angeles, from Dallas to Gary, Ind., between the early 1970s and early 1990s. up to date LEISURE (Steidl, $85), edited by Susan Bell and Ryan Spencer, includes 34 never-before-seen images, creating an expanded portrait of a nation with various forms of recreation.

Among the first to introduce color photography into the realm of fine art, Epstein captured individuals and groups in a variety of free-time activities: a couple stopping to window-shop outside a shop in the New Orleans, a steamy performance at a Los Angeles nightclub, a group of men peeking into a construction site in Midtown Manhattan, naked bathers on Martha’s Vineyard. His photographs evoke an unusual range of emotions; they are funny and melancholic, contemplative, nostalgic and a bit lonely. Together, these scenes paint a portrait of late 20th-century anomie, a world without filters, selfies, or self-awareness.

These photos range from stillness to chaos, but we always seem to catch people in moments of intimacy – a concept almost alien to Epstein viewers today. We feel distant from the subjects, as if we were watching them from a distance, watching in a voyeuristic way these moments of the past of an enviable authenticity.

Erica Ackerberg is photo editor at Book Review.


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